Adrian Matejka

Tommy Johnson


from Looking for The Cantos in Texas


There’s jake leg blues
in this box. There’s carnal
scribbling: a constellation
of bug prints in a gypsy’s
biography—loose-leaf, crayon
etchings and the sun shining
on my back door some day.


Tommy Johnson, forget
about air. Ignore the wind,
shimmying with seeds
and hair. But take a nail
and a seed and I’ll whittle
a twelve-string that only plays
cranial propositions.


A six-string is trouble,
but the twelve is the most hoodoo’d
mess in nature—the noise
in adverbs making spiders
grow at unnatural speeds.
The pop and settle of this attic
as it ages with arthritic grace.


Orthography of dialect, jawboning
in the glare of half-notes, shoe polish
strained through bread in a glass,
and the torso of bass topography.
Think of prohibition-bound
Tommy Johnson, belly splayed
in abdomen:


          Woke up this morning
          with canned heat on my mind.
          Mama, mama, mama,
          canned heat is killing me.



“Tommy Johnson” was first published in Gulf Coast, Vol. 17.1.